Landau called upon to comment on "Fatalities in Triathlon"

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While I have been asked for training tips and race recommendations, a recent call from a sports reporter stopped me in my tracks. This young woman was investigating triathlon fatalities. As reported in the October 2008 edition of Inside Triathlon, 3 triathletes died in three separate races in July. This brings the number of race-related deaths up to 8 since January.

While this seems like a large number, considering there are over 100,000 members of USAT, it is actually a very, very small number. This is especially true as there are many thousands of “race day” licnensees that bump up the hundred thousand member number up considerably. While the incidence of deaths in the sport are being investigated, thorough, annual pre-season physicals with a sports medicine doctor can help identify health concerns and potentially avoid race day difficulties.

In my own experience helping injured people, we have had only one major race injury case and one bike tour crash. All of the other cases at the Herndon Reston area injury law firm ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd., have occurred during training rides, runs, swims or strength training. Most race directors arrange for closed, safe courses, staffed by volunteers and backed up with police and signs. So it comes as no surprise that more injuries and fatalities would arise during training, especially since much more time is spent preparing for races than in actual competition.

14 responses on “Landau called upon to comment on "Fatalities in Triathlon"

  1. Roger Brockenbrough

    FYI, although intersections are usually monitored and controlled, most race courses (bike leg in particular) are NOT closed to traffic.

  2. Roger Brockenbrough

    FYI, although intersections are usually monitored and controlled, most race courses (bike leg in particular) are NOT closed to traffic.

  3. Dr. Eric Tondera

    I don’t know if it was reported but a 39 year old male died last year at the Cinco Ranch Triathlon race. He had completed the swim and bike but had a massive heart attack during the first quarter mile of the run. Yes, this is tragic and hopefully will not happen. However, we do know that things like this will occur and thank God it happens very rarely as your article indicates. Thanks for allowing me to comment. Eric.

  4. Dr. Eric Tondera

    I don’t know if it was reported but a 39 year old male died last year at the Cinco Ranch Triathlon race. He had completed the swim and bike but had a massive heart attack during the first quarter mile of the run. Yes, this is tragic and hopefully will not happen. However, we do know that things like this will occur and thank God it happens very rarely as your article indicates. Thanks for allowing me to comment. Eric.

  5. Anna Freuler

    First of all this article is incomplete and therefore not helpful to both active triathletes and athletes new to the sport. I think it is important that we always consider the hazards of a sport and look for ways to make it safer – especially when there is a rising trend in sport related deaths and a growing number of participants to the sport of Triathlons. Obviously it is no longer considered an elite athlete event. Many young people and old people alike are trying the sport for the first time – and this could be related to the rising trend in race-day related deaths. However, this attorney, Landau seems annoyed that someone would even question the relevancy of the incidents – which makes me question his role with USAT – and perhaps my membership with USAT too. Also, there is a major problem with his reasons for why this should not be a big deal and that is ignorant statement about the 1,000+ race day USAT memberships – for one, most USAT members have to re-register with USAT if they forgot their membership card on race-day, which greatly increases the number of USAT members and therefore skews the actual numbers of sport related deaths to # of members. I will agree that there are a lot of athletes associated with USAT – hands down it is a growing sport and USAT has done a wonderful job cultivating its popularity. But, we should not disregard or ignore the problems with the sport and the unnecessary hazards. The fact that there have been any deaths let alone 8 in less than a year should raise concern in the organization and the community! I can’t speak to the actual details of each death (I think that should have been included in this article) but I have participated in many events and I know the swim can be quite dangerous even for strong swimmers. Perhaps one way to improve safety is to provide more regulations and rules around the swim portion of the race, like time-spaced entry into the water, grouping by age group instead of only gender and skill level, and requiring more safety personnel in the water to identify struggling swimmers. Providing more detail around tri-course difficulty with a rating scale to discourage new athletes from taking on “too much”, or perhaps making the more difficult races qualify entry only – like Kona. Regardless of how “small” the number of deaths may be, the fact that there have been any should be a concern to all!

    Anna: You raise some interesting and valid points. See tomorrow’s post, as there are additional links and information.

    As far as safety concerns, I also agree that putting like-skilled swimmers in the same heat may make more sense that doing it by age group. Especially when there are groups participating not as competitive age groupers, but for charities (like Team In Training), where being together in their matching uniforms and cheering each other on creates esprit de corp and lessons the liklihood of a Team in Training fundraiser is run/biked/swum over by a highly skilled/competitive age grouper. I also remember the day when you needed a thorough pre-season physical exam from a medical doctor before you could participate. Perhaps requiring a USAT member to start with a sprint before going to Olympic Distance, and then Olympic before half Iron man, etc., like the skier’s “GLM” method would help to keep participants from taking on too much too soon. With USAT membership, such information could be stored and verified.

    With regard to the USAT, I have no position with the national governing body. I am just an age group member like you. I am also concerned that there are any deaths at all in a sport in which I have been a participant, volunteer and spectator. And I appreciate race directors who have cancelled the swim or bike because of dangerous conditions, or made the run “un-timed” because of the heat index. Lastly, while the precise manner of death was beyond the scope of the posting, some of the other comments reveal other race and training fatalities. Again, thank you for your comments. Doug Landau

  6. Anna Freuler

    First of all this article is incomplete and therefore not helpful to both active triathletes and athletes new to the sport. I think it is important that we always consider the hazards of a sport and look for ways to make it safer – especially when there is a rising trend in sport related deaths and a growing number of participants to the sport of Triathlons. Obviously it is no longer considered an elite athlete event. Many young people and old people alike are trying the sport for the first time – and this could be related to the rising trend in race-day related deaths. However, this attorney, Landau seems annoyed that someone would even question the relevancy of the incidents – which makes me question his role with USAT – and perhaps my membership with USAT too. Also, there is a major problem with his reasons for why this should not be a big deal and that is ignorant statement about the 1,000+ race day USAT memberships – for one, most USAT members have to re-register with USAT if they forgot their membership card on race-day, which greatly increases the number of USAT members and therefore skews the actual numbers of sport related deaths to # of members. I will agree that there are a lot of athletes associated with USAT – hands down it is a growing sport and USAT has done a wonderful job cultivating its popularity. But, we should not disregard or ignore the problems with the sport and the unnecessary hazards. The fact that there have been any deaths let alone 8 in less than a year should raise concern in the organization and the community! I can’t speak to the actual details of each death (I think that should have been included in this article) but I have participated in many events and I know the swim can be quite dangerous even for strong swimmers. Perhaps one way to improve safety is to provide more regulations and rules around the swim portion of the race, like time-spaced entry into the water, grouping by age group instead of only gender and skill level, and requiring more safety personnel in the water to identify struggling swimmers. Providing more detail around tri-course difficulty with a rating scale to discourage new athletes from taking on “too much”, or perhaps making the more difficult races qualify entry only – like Kona. Regardless of how “small” the number of deaths may be, the fact that there have been any should be a concern to all!

    Anna: You raise some interesting and valid points. See tomorrow’s post, as there are additional links and information.

    As far as safety concerns, I also agree that putting like-skilled swimmers in the same heat may make more sense that doing it by age group. Especially when there are groups participating not as competitive age groupers, but for charities (like Team In Training), where being together in their matching uniforms and cheering each other on creates esprit de corp and lessons the liklihood of a Team in Training fundraiser is run/biked/swum over by a highly skilled/competitive age grouper. I also remember the day when you needed a thorough pre-season physical exam from a medical doctor before you could participate. Perhaps requiring a USAT member to start with a sprint before going to Olympic Distance, and then Olympic before half Iron man, etc., like the skier’s “GLM” method would help to keep participants from taking on too much too soon. With USAT membership, such information could be stored and verified.

    With regard to the USAT, I have no position with the national governing body. I am just an age group member like you. I am also concerned that there are any deaths at all in a sport in which I have been a participant, volunteer and spectator. And I appreciate race directors who have cancelled the swim or bike because of dangerous conditions, or made the run “un-timed” because of the heat index. Lastly, while the precise manner of death was beyond the scope of the posting, some of the other comments reveal other race and training fatalities. Again, thank you for your comments. Doug Landau

  7. David Flynn

    Why does this surprise anyone?

    Since we now have a whole separate league of triathlons for women only – large numbers of newbies (often 50% of the field) are entering the race course who have self excluded from the regular ranks of full paced co-ed competition.

    I frankly doubt that it is the veterans who are dropping dead in marathons, triathlons and other ultra endurance events. More often than not, it is the unprepared weekend athlete who wanted to prove something or lose weight in one massive effort. Someone who shouldn’t have even entered the race.

    I believe that as promoters struggle to increase receipts – we will have MORE of these sorts of events that place the less well prepared in the middle of a challenge that they realize was a mistake halfway into an open water swim.

  8. David Flynn

    Why does this surprise anyone?

    Since we now have a whole separate league of triathlons for women only – large numbers of newbies (often 50% of the field) are entering the race course who have self excluded from the regular ranks of full paced co-ed competition.

    I frankly doubt that it is the veterans who are dropping dead in marathons, triathlons and other ultra endurance events. More often than not, it is the unprepared weekend athlete who wanted to prove something or lose weight in one massive effort. Someone who shouldn’t have even entered the race.

    I believe that as promoters struggle to increase receipts – we will have MORE of these sorts of events that place the less well prepared in the middle of a challenge that they realize was a mistake halfway into an open water swim.

  9. Doug

    Trip:

    See tomorrow’s post. I would have thought that the leading cause would have been bike crashes, followed by heart attacks while running in the heat. But, according to the NYT article (see link), swimming seems to be the culprit. As I myself have had several “anxiety attacks” when starting the swim in cold water, I have now learned to take extra precautions to prevent reoccurrences. I will address these in a later entry, but suffice it to say, I now start wide to one side or another, and note where the lifeguards, surfboards and rescue boats are situated as well as where the directional buoys are located. I also double cap and wear a long-sleeved (and legged) wetsuit, for warmth, as well as buoyancy. doug

  10. Doug

    Trip:
    See tomorrow’s post. I would have thought that the leading cause would have been bike crashes, followed by heart attacks while running in the heat. But, according to the NYT article (see link), swimming seems to be the culprit. As I myself have had several “anxiety attacks” when starting the swim in cold water, I have now learned to take extra precautions to prevent reoccurrences. I will address these in a later entry, but suffice it to say, I now start wide to one side or another, and note where the lifeguards, surfboards and rescue boats are situated as well as where the directional buoys are located. I also double cap and wear a long-sleeved (and legged) wetsuit, for warmth, as well as buoyancy. doug

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